Marcus Ties The Knot

I have wondered why Zadie Smith’s White Teeth was saved for the last reading throughout the semester. Of the many thought provoking readings we were assigned, why was this one chosen to fill the anchor position? Having finished the book, my question has been answered. This book, to my mind, is the most comprehensive review of the discussions that have taken place throughout the semester, in addition to being the most sympathetic to the human condition. The role of the three families’ genes and the effect they and the families’ cultural heritages had on the entire cast of characters was in itself more than relevant to the course. However, Marcus’s character seemed to draw the entire semester’s topics together like a well-tied knot. In particular, one scene employs several themes present in our discussions of the last few months. The events that take place on and around page 279 detail Irie’s venture into Marcus’s study. Relevant people and subjects present in the scene (in various forms such as books, portraits, etc.) are:

1. Mendel, obviously from Mendel’s Dwarf

2. Watson and Crick, The Double Helix

3. The genetically engineered “Future Mouse,” which calls back remembrances of the discussions inherent to Never Let Me Go, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Brave New World, and Oryx and Crake.

The mouse represents a being which supposedly has no choice in its life (Never Let Me Go, Brave New World), the tip of the iceberg for the potential (good and bad) of genetic engineering (all 4 selections mentioned), ethical concerns for the creation of a creature by artificial means (again, all 4 of the listed readings), and several other connections into which I won’t delve.

It is easy to go beyond just applying symbolism to Marcus’s study, as the character of Marcus is in itself important. It offers a look through the author’s eyes at science and the people behind the discoveries. While he is obviously not a perfect representative of the entire scientific community, the roles of rationality and logic (“Chalfenism”) are enormous in his character’s life. What he brings about in the events of the book also affords a glance at what the author sees as the “everyman” perspective on science. For example, when Archie, Samad, and Magic visit O’Connell’s, Mickey is presented with a few scientific ideas regarding genes and the Future Mouse. He distrusts the entire business at first, but soon warms to the topic as Magid’s charisma is paired with the idea that his skin condition could be something that would be preventable in future generations. Her view of the perspective seems to be that if it can help me in some way, well, maybe a little science won’t do any harm. Marcus also plays the role of attempting to inflict certainty on the Future Mouse. Although he and others suffered the conceit that they could plot out exactly what would happen to the mouse at predetermined dates, the mouse escapes due to chance. That is, the deja-vu-inducing chance meeting of Archie’s leg and a bullet intended for a man (same man, different bullet) Archie spared many, many years earlier. Obviously the entire affair is a bit contrived, but only in order to point something out. Nothing is certain, and if you think so you’ll find that it doesn’t take Murphy’s Law very long to prove that it isn’t. I had honestly hoped for a bit more chaos from the scene due to the myriad characters that appeared to be on a collision course, but I felt that it was very well done nonetheless and got the point about attempting to predetermine things across.

On a side note, I personally enjoyed the book quite a bit (I’m a sucker for dry British humor and absurd coincidences) and the author’s style frequently reminded me of another purveyor of dark humor and brit-wit, Douglas Adams. His Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series has a protagonist very similar to Archie, a plodding but well-intentioned sort of bloke named Arthur Dent. It may be a bit of a stretch to say Smith was paying homage to the late Douglas’s Arthur through Archie, but the characters bear more than a few similarities if examined at any depth whatsoever.


~ by barrinmb on April 15, 2008.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: